Rape suspect from Panama immune under 1961 pact—De Lima
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine government cannot hale to court a Panamanian diplomat accused of raping a 19-year-old Filipino woman in Makati City because of a decades-old international agreement.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima broke this “unfortunate reality” to the victim during a closed-door meeting at the Department of Justice Thursday.
“It was unsatisfying. But my fight for justice will continue,” the victim, whose face was covered with a scarf, told reporters. “But I still thank Secretary de Lima for explaining the technicalities (of the case I filed),” she said.
According to De Lima, Erick Bairnals Shcks, a technical officer of the Panama Maritime Authority and a diplomatic passport holder, was covered by the immunity granted to foreign diplomats as stated in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“We really cannot do anything because of that diplomatic immunity. That’s an international agreement,” she said.
Shcks, 35, was accused of raping the victim in his rented condominium unit in Makati City on April 23, a few days after he purportedly befriended her.
De Lima noted that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had already issued a certification that Shcks had diplomatic immunity.
“Under the existing jurisprudence, DFA is the primary agency with competence and authority to make such [a] declaration and certification. The only orders we refuse to obey are those made with grave error,” she added.
De Lima said that the only way the victim may pursue her criminal complaint against Shcks was for the Panamanian government to waive his immunity through the DFA.
“That waiver should be voluntary and expressed. It should also come from the Panamanian government. We cannot force it,” the justice secretary added.
She said the victim may also file a separate civil suit against Shck while the Panamanian Embassy could start administrative proceedings against him.
At the same time, De Lima admitted that the justice department could not prohibit Shcks from leaving the country.
Gabriela party-list Representative Luz Ilagan, who accompanied the victim during the meeting, said her group would ask the DFA to request the Panamanian government to waive Shcks’ diplomatic immunity to pave the way for his prosecution under Philippine laws.
“We will ask the DFA to declare Shcks persona non grata. We will also request the Panamanian government using different channels to convince them to waive his immunity so that he can have his day in court. If he’s really innocent, he should welcome the investigation,” Ilagan said.
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